For the first time, researchers are using protons to administer radiation therapy in a matter of milliseconds. the technique kills cancer cells while protecting healthy tissue.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than half of cancer patients go through radiation therapy. Radiation works by damaging cancer cells’ DNA. ait also damages healthy cells.

Certain cancers can be cured by radiation, while other types can be slowed or shrunken making surgery more viable. Currently, this is a slow process. It can take weeks of radiation treatment to damage the DNA of cancer cells enough to kill them.

The new technique is ultra-high dose rate radiotherapy called FLASH. According to previous research, it uses protons instead of electrons or photons to minimize damage to healthy tissue while targeting tumors.


In their paper, the authors explain that the previous research suggested that FLASH therapy kills off cancer cells while preserving normal tissue.

The researchers want to find out if there is a “dose rate threshold” that will allow doctors to deliver FLASH much faster while still protecting healthy tissue.

In order to understand the biological effects of FLASH, the researchers designed and built a radiotherapy apparatus that could deliver FLASH or standard radiation dose rates.

Dr. Metz  explains, “We’ve been able to develop specialized systems in the research room to generate FLASH doses, demonstrate that we can control the proton beam, and perform a large number of experiments to help us understand the implications of FLASH radiation that we simply could not have done with a more traditional research setup.”

Other researchers have duplicated this trial with success of their own. One such team of researchers working at Leicester Cancer Research Centre, Leicester Royal Infirmary, Leicester, UK, found that the machinery required didn’t exist. The team use a modified ELECKTA Precise machine, developed by investigators from the University Hospitals of Skane and Lund in Sweden.

Dr. James M. Metz, director of the Roberts Proton Therapy Center and Chair of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, is the co-senior and corresponding author of the new study, which appears in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, and Physics.


This therapy will be available in 2022, and will be Columbus, Ohio’s first and only proton therapy center. The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) worked together with Nationwide Children’s Hospital to develop the machinery for this treatment.